Medical talks

LET’S TALK VACCINE

If there is one conversation ravaging on everyone’s lips right now, it’s the Covid-19 vaccine. Not only is Covid-19 in itself a controversial topic (I am still trying to comprehend the logic of Covid-19 as a hoax…). But, honestly, let’s go there for a quick minute while we’re on the topic. So the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD is on a standstill because of a hoax??? Like what lunatic possibly decided on this psychotic plan, and what is the end-game? Are we all going to wake up one day, and BREAKING NEWS: Covid-19 was a hoax. Thank you for playing along. Now back to your lives. Oh, and P.S sorry for the lost lives, we had to make it look believable..????? Please, balance me with this logic.

But, I digress…

A frequent question asked and had many conversations of my own too is “Will you get vaccinated?”/”Is it safe?”

As a black person, it would be foolish of me to jump to an uninformed and poorly researched decision. As history has shown us, science and medicine have not always protected black people. If it’s not the unethical retrieval of our genes to study cancer (the HeLa cells: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henrietta-Lacks#:~:text=Henrietta%20Lacks%2C%20n%C3%A9e%20Loretta%20Pleasant,to%20numerous%20important%20scientific%20advances.); it’s performing unethical research surgeries on us because “black people can’t feel pain” (the father of modern gynecology: https://jme.bmj.com/content/medethics/19/1/28.full.pdf); it’s withholding necessary treatment from us so that researchers can study disease progression (Tuskegee experiment: https://www.britannica.com/event/Tuskegee-syphilis-study); to now dealing with high mortality rates of black women during childbirth due to negligence.

So yes, as a black person, excuse me for not rolling out my trust carpet to a “new vaccine.” I have questions!!

However, although we have a long dark history of discrimination and racism towards black people in science and medicine, there is an expansion of the community of black excellence that is rising up and taking up space in STEMM fields. I am here for it all…I LOVE TO SEE! It gives me somewhat comfort and security to know that there are people who represent me, working tirelessly to break barriers to protect me and my autonomy. And more importantly, black people have access to information to read by ourselves and deduce our own ideas.

Although access to information is readily available now, still few people genuinely seek legitimate and substantial information. And those that do, there is still a language barrier between science and general speaking.  To debunk some of these ridiculous claims I’ve heard and help communicate the science behind the vaccine to those with genuine concern (in a language I hope is more general), I decided to write this post.

  • How are vaccines made?

Traditionally, a vaccine is either live-attenuated, meaning the virus is made weaker (this provides long immunity), or a vaccine is inactivated, meaning the virus is killed (this provides short immunity). Once these vaccines are introduced in the body, they activate our immune systems so that it’s ready to attack that virus should it infect us in the future. These vaccines are usually developed over 15-20years

  • Is the Covid-19 vaccine the same?

No. Because of urgency to address Covid-19, an operation was set up to allocate a lot of money and resources to companies that could create a vaccine ASAP. This meant that various “safety” processes may potentially be neglected as pharmaceutical companies rolled out to “win” the award.

However, the pharma companies Pfizer and Moderna did not participate in this programme due to the concerns. Rather, they obtained different funding and used a technology developed about 25years ago to make their vaccines; however, this technology has not been actualized in vaccine development. So while the vaccine is new, the technology is not.

  • How is the Covid-19 vaccine different?

Unlike the traditional vaccines, which introduce the virus to the body, Pfizer/Moderna vaccine doesn’t inject the virus into the body. This vaccine encodes something called a messenger RNA (mRNA) in the body that contains information to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins found on the Covid-19 virus. Therefore, once this mRNA enters the body, it activates our proteins to make the antigen that will activate our immune system. And like the traditional vaccine, our bodies will be ready to fight the virus should one get infected.

  • How effective is it? What about side effects?

The laboratory studies showed a great immune T-cells response in animals that stopped the viral replication. Similar promising results were also obtained in their initial phase human clinical trials where subjects produced promising antibodies. This led both companies to go onto the Phase III clinical trials. They had over 40 000 people with one group taking the vaccine, and another got a placebo (basically just given a sweet to eat). For Pfizer, 170 people followed up had fallen sick with Covid-19. Of them, 162 were those that had taken the placebo. Hence, the vaccine is said to be 95% effective. Moderna found 197 positive cases, and of these, 185 had taken the placebo. Therefore both companies reported on similar efficacy rate. More, in the groups that tested positive while having taken the vaccine, non presented with severe symptomatic illnesses as observed in the placebo groups. The side effects that were observed were severe fatigue, headaches, and muscle pain. But these were short-term and did not require urgent medical care or hospitalization.

  • So is this the end of Covid-19? Can we celebrate and finally dust off our passports?

Well, yes and no. For starters, it is noteworthy to celebrate a new use of technology advancing modern medicine where we don’t have to inoculate our bodies with a virus. However, to end the pandemic, we need to end the virus transmission, which can only be achieved with herd immunity. This simply means that at least 70% of the global population needs to be vaccinated. As one can imagine, the broken trust (in especially black communities) and circulation of false information has many people reluctant to take the vaccine. Therefore, getting 70% of the population to accept the vaccine will be a big challenge. Also, distribution to every part of the world is another challenging factor because an RNA vaccine requires below freezing temperatures (< -70C) for storage. Therefore this may be a problem, particularly in low- mid-income countries where storage units may not be adequate and available.

While I can understand the biggest concern of not trusting that what you don’t know and have never seen. I believe there is a substantial amount of information to make a well-informed decision for you and your family. And while, right now, we can’t address the long-term side effects that could come from this vaccine, I argue that we also can’t address the long-term side effects of contracting Covid-19. Already there are reports of people who have not recovered their taste buds even 6months after recovering from the infection.

So to the question, will I take the vaccine? Absolutely. Am I concerned about the side effects? Yes, very much. So why will I take something I have great concerns about? Because I have read and trust the science. But, I am also human (not forgetting one that is an awkward walking ball of anxiety) and would rightfully be nervous, afraid, and concerned about trying something new.

I know this was not your average post on mental health. Still, I hope I have shed some valuable information and calmed even one mind experiencing severe anxiety and panic about the vaccine.

Until the next time, leaving you with that good-good mental health vibes.

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